Saturday, June 13, 2020

The End of Normal

 Like anyone, I look forward to the day when I can go out to a movie or a restaurant or get my hair cut. When I can pass people in the street and see their whole faces and talk to folks (gasp!) three feet apart! And I will certainly rejoice when I can hold hands in a circle with kids and adults and sing and dance again. 

But part of me is also dreading it. The idea that we would return to business as usual is at once enticing and terrifying. Because truth be told, business as usual wasn’t that great in so many ways. When we take life for granted, we often tend to squander it. Get caught up in the hyper-paced insanity of screened distraction, choose to ignore the cries of a biosphere in crisis and a culture unraveling, think that mortality is some distant abstraction that needs no thought. We keep the thinking going that it’s okay for some to win and some to lose and stay on the treadmill of the old tired arguments that has people screaming at each other across divides constructed to serve the privileged and perpetuate the old hatreds and ignorances. We waste the extraordinary opportunities of children gathered in schools on trivial skills and think it’s okay to look at their grades instead of their souls, to keep them imitating yesterday’s failed solutions to yesterday’s problems and let the imagination and the heart go to sleep in the classroom.

Amidst all the uncertainties and fears and desperate clinging of the old dying patriarchy to think that they can “dominate the streets,” there has been a rising up of the human spirit that can’t be shut down by police or more Fox- News spin. The dormant imagination is roaring like a slumbering beast rudely awakened and instead of making obscure abstract art, it is singing for it’s very life, painting the streets, dancing with purpose. The closed heart is finally opening and ready to admit grief and outrage and caring and love far beyond the norm. As Michael Meade says, in a time of crisis we are called upon to either be smaller people or larger souls and the numbers choosing the latter are remarkable. 

How tragic if the passing of the virus put it all back to sleep again. Already entire states like Massachusetts are deciding to cut all arts programs in their new version of school. Really? Haven’t they learned anything? That in the big life moments, it is the singing and poetry and imagination that leads the way. No one gathers around the deathbed of a loved one and takes out their old math sheets. We are all gathering around the deathbeds of so much— fellow citizens murdered by police because of skin pigment, birds and bees and little creatures losing habitats, predictable weather patterns going awry because we drive so often to Walmart, the foundations of democracy being purposefully dismantled while so many just sit around and watch. In the face of all this, we're just going to give the kids more math sheets to fill out?

This is the time of our singing, the time to dance that moral arc towards justice, the time to improvise through the staggering accelerated changes like a disciplined jazz musician. This is the time to work on your downward dog and then come up barking ferociously at the robbers trying to steal the treasures of our humanity, the shameless profiteers coming to steal the souls of our children.  This is the time to connect the mindfulness of our breath with the denial of some of us to breathe while the knees of centuries long purposeful brutality are on their neck.

Alongside the millions finally rising up and speaking up and figuring out how to contribute from their corner of expertise must come a new commitment to the real education our children need and have always needed and need more than ever, the one that nourishes heart, mind, body and spirit as one undivided entity, the one that puts arts education in the center and awakens to the kind of art that is not a specialized talent off to the side, but an exalted and necessary faculty of the human imagination that is in the center of the way we live, think and act.

As Arundhati Roy says:

“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew, to enter a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

See you on the other side in the dancing circle.

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